Dr. Herman Bendell: Jewish Superintendent of Indian Affairs, Arizona Territory, 1871-73

Dr. Hermen Bendell

Young Dr. Herman Bendell during the Civil War, #WS1211

Young Dr. Herman Bendell during the Civil War

Values Codes I – H – E – L


Along the way

Hermen Bendell was born in Albany, New York in 1843.

Dr. Bendell was trained as a surgeon before, during, and after the Civil War.

He served with both the 6th New York Heavy Artillery and the 86th New York Infantry.

He served with the Army of the Potomac, Sheridan Campaign, and in the Shenandoah Valley.


Bendell arrived in San Francisco in 1871.

From there he took a steamer to San Diego and a stagecoach to Yuma, Arizona Territory.


Superintendent of Indian Affairs, Arizona Territory, 1871-73

The 1870 appointment of Dr. Herman Bendell, Jewish surgeon and Civil War veteran, to the post of  Arizona’s Superintendent of Indian Affairs, did not sit well with the otherwise all-Christian Department of Indian Affairs, and especially with the all-Protestant Bureau of Indian Commissioners, whose main concern was that all their missionary efforts might be undone by a Jew managing supplies for the native population.

Bendell, arriving in the Southwest from his native Albany, New York, found disturbing conditions in his territory.

Settlers lived in constant fear of murder and robbery by the local tribes, especially the Apache.

The infamous Camp Grant massacre occurred soon after: Citizens of Tucson rode after a band of Apache murderers, but ambushed and killed many peaceful Indians, including woman and children.

Local Apache Indians

This event fueled the cycle of revenge between the local tribes and the white settlers for years to come.

“I feel it a duty that I owe to the people of the country, and the Indians under my charge, to do something to relieve the pressures that surrounds them, and earnestly solicit the Department to accord to me a discretionary power in the matter…” – Dr. Herman Bendell

Bendell visited all the tribes to discuss their needs.  He obtained good local prices for government contracts, supervised the receipt of the supplies, and directed their distribution to the Indians.

But in spite of all efforts, whether humanitarian or threatening, many hostile tribes would not remain on their reservations.

Settlers at Verde and Camp McDowell fled in the wake of recommenced murder and robbery.

In August of 1872, Dr. Bendell accompanied a delegation of representatives from different tribes on a trip to the east coast and to Washington DC.

They returned with many gifts, including permission to buy a thresher for the Pima.

The Board of Commissioners praised Dr. Bendell’s accomplishments but still recommended he be replaced by a Christian.

“Dr. Herman Bendell, Superintendent of Indian Affairs for Arizona, is a most excellent official, a man of splendid judgment, strict integrity, who has managed the affairs of the office to entire satisfaction, but unfortunately he is not a Christian.” Board of Indian Commissioners

After a short stint as Consul to Denmark (President Grant’s consolation appointment) and a year studying ophthalmology at Heidelberg, Bendell and his family settled down to a rewarding life in Albany.



Dr. Herman Bendell lost no time in returning to Albany, where he married his fiancée, Wilhelmine Lewi in 1873.

They had four children: Beulah, Joseph, Myra, and Berta.


Dr. Herman Bendall passed away in 1932 in Albany, New York.

He is buried in the Beth El Emeth Cemetery in Albany.


  • Monty Jacobs, “Appointment of Herman Bendell as Superintendent of Indian Affairs of Arizona Territory,” Western States Jewish History 24/2.
  • Norton B. Stern, “Herman Bendell: Superintendent of Indian Affairs, Arizona Territory, 1871-1873,” Western States Jewish Historical Quarterly 8/2.
  • Abraham S. Chanin, “Herman Bendell: The Jewish Chief of the Indians of Arizona, 1871-1873,” Western States Jewish History 31/4.
  • Herman Bendell,” Superintendent of Indian Affairs; Arizona Territory, Annual Report, 1871,” Western States Jewish History 22/3.
  • Herman Bendell, “Superintendent of Indian Affairs; Arizona Territory, Annual Report, 1872,”Western States Jewish History 22/4.

Regina Merwin is the curator for this Herman Bendell exhibit.